SIRONKO: A child half naked stands at a source of “safe water” on the slopes of Mt. Elgon in Bubolo village in Zesui sub-county in Sironko district.
And in the neighborhood, Ms. Zeuria Nabujewa, 43, carrying a baby, bends to fetch water that naturally flows from Mt. Elgon at another source.
Although the water collected from a banana leaf looked dirty with black particles, Nabujejere insisted the water was fit for human consumption.
Her neighbour Mr Alex Wakadala is however different and says if you were given a glass of water from Mt Elgon Rivers today, there are two things you would notice about the water; it smells bad and it is brownish.
“But more than that, it has black sand particles and dead algae, making it emit a pungent smell and this has caused great concern about its effect on the hygiene of those who live around and below this mountain,” said Mr Wakadala.
Environmentalists and scientists say encroachment on the mountain for farming and settlement are the factors affecting the water.
According to Wakadala, the dirt in the water is worsening so fast that today it is impossible for the residents living around the mountain to get safe drinking water.
When PML Daily approaches Nabujewa, she simply says, “Fe kunywa mezi egga, kugakozesa kudeka ni kusinga malayi gegali mabbi dda.” Loosely meaning, we drink this water, we use it for cooking and washing. It is safe water, ”
She added that as pupils, they drank from this water, and pupils of all primary schools surrounding the area today also drink the same water.
“Our parents and relatives drank this water. We saw them on many occasions at this running water fetching and nobody ever got sick. We don’t even need to boil our water because it is safe, “said Ms. Nabujejere.
Although I was surprised when I heard that people from Mt Elgon take water directly from run-offs around the mountain in rural mountainous sub-counties neighbouring Mt Elgon, I did not speak back.
I stood still and looked at the woman fetching water from the running stream. I wanted to speak back, but an inner voice restrained me when I saw a group of pupils and adults come to line up at the same running water to fetch water for drinking and domestic use.
The looks on their faces left no doubt in my mind that the people were determined to take this water, so I did not speak out.
Nabujewa is not alone. Most residents of the Mt. Elgon region drink this water that flows from Mt. Elgon; the water flows naturally along various ridges at Mt Elgon as children also prance about in the same water while animals drink the same water.
This is due to the fact that people lack clean water sources at the slopes of Mt Elgon and most times the water is not enough.
Even when several medical reports have indicated that there is an increase in incidents of diarrhea, Cholera, dysentery, skin diseases and coughs in the Mt. Elgon area, residents still share this water as this is the only “clean” source of water for the people.
According to the Borgen report, even when water is a basic human right, 40% of people in the world don’t have access to enough safe water.
And that a country like Uganda is no exception where about eight million Ugandans lack access to safe water, and this lack of clean water affects the health of Ugandan, their productivity, and their economy.
A report titled The Current State of Uganda by Acts for water says water crisis in Uganda has been an ongoing issue for years, due to its landlocked location in East Africa and that currently, there are over 8.4million Ugandan people living without access to safe drinking water.
Acts for Water [Uganda] is an Ngo that is trying to create sustainable water management strategies to provide clean drinking water to Ugandan communities
And for Mothers around Mt Elgon sub-region, this means the risk of parasites and dangerous waterborne diseases threatening the lives of children while for young girls, it means walking long distances every day with heavy cans down the dangerous roads to fetch water instead of going to school.
It is true that clean and safe water is everything: A good Education, good health, gender equality, food security etc all hinge on water, water is therefore life.
The 2017 Acts for Water report says that in many parts of rural Uganda, water is highly inaccessible adding that people have to walk for miles, several times a day, to fetch contaminated water for themselves and their families.
And since Uganda is an agriculture-heavy country, typically men dedicate their time to working in the fields, while the women and children take care of the household that involves fetching heavy buckets of water from far away.
The report says that over the last two decades, Uganda’s economy has grown very quickly, which has put a lot of strain on the land and its resources and that about 19 percent of Ugandans get their drinking water from streams, ponds, and unprotected hand-dug wells.
A magazine, water.org that writes on Uganda’s water and sanitation crisis [in October 2018 report] that over 7 million Ugandans don’t have access to safe water, and 28 million don’t have access to better sanitation facilities and that, this is because of the country’s rapid population growth.
Eng. Andrew Wasukira, the Sironko district water engineer, says although they have spread safe, clean water across the district, there are places where people are deliberately using dirty naturally flowing water for drinking and domestic use.
He adds that as a result of a project to improve access to safe water in Sironko District, the burden of water has been reduced and safe and clean water coverage in the district has gone up from 65% to 77%.
Dr Nicholas Wabomba, the District Health Officer for Sironko, says he is aware that a number of people are still using unsafe water directly from running rivers.
“And some people have had diarrhoea related diseases caused by this contaminated water, especially children under the age of five. We insist that people stop drinking from these contaminated water sources because they have become dirty and unfit for drinking, “said Dr. Wabomba.
He says many people are treated at hospitals and health centre IIIs with fluids, nausea medication, and diarrhoea medications, and they are let go back home without knowing that water is the cause of these illnesses.
Dr Peter Nabende, the retired Sironko DHO, says when people drink contaminated water, besides having diarrhea-related diseases like cholera and dysentery, they will also suffer from waterborne diseases like Bilharzia.
Dr Nabende said that WHO data shows that more than five million people die each year from diseases caused by unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, and not enough water for hygiene and that over 2 million people die each year from water-related diarrhoea alone.
But Nabujewa, like other residents staying at the slopes of Mt. Elgon, insist that the water is clean, does not cause any disease, and was used by their parents and grandparents long ago without getting sick.
But Dr Nabende adds that people think of disasters as being mudslides, fires or storms, but that this is a health looming disaster right in the Elgon sub-region and calls for urgent interventions to save life.
According to Mt Elgon conservation area manager [Chief Warden] Mr Fred Kizza, the greed and reckless nature of human activities at the Mt. Elgon water catchment area has killed and destroyed the quality of waters that flow from Mt. Elgon.
“There is a lot of algae under the water, and the black particles seen are symptoms of heavy pollution and silting. The algae can disappear with time, but this leaves behind disastrous effects especially on the health of the people, “ Mr Kizza says.
Mr Kizza adds that Mt Elgon is a mountain ecosystem is one of the five ‘water towers’ of Kenya, including a catchment of rivers that feed into lakes Turkana, L.Victoria and L. Kioga in Uganda and that if the rivers are dirty, then their destinations are also dirty.
He revealed that despite its importance, the Mt Elgon ecosystem has been threatened with deforestation and degradation adding that there is need to manage the eco-system well in order to clean the rivers.
“The point now is simple we need the best approach to manage the forest ecosystem and its water resources to ensure livelihood benefits for local people,” said Mr Kizza.
An ecological study on the water quality analysis from selected rivers at Mt. Elgon national park  by National Water and Sewerage Corporation [NWSC] also says that massive encroachment beyond the bamboo zone has endangered the ecological functions of Mt. Elgon at a great rate.
According to the ecological study report, signed in part by Mr. David Ogaram, Mt Elgon Rivers have been polluted by a lot of encroachment, farming, and people settlement.
The report says that the River Manafwa, which supplies water to Mbale municipality, Tororo, Mbale and Butaleja, was the most contaminated with a total of 59.7 mg per litre of total dissolved solids, while the Chebonet River in Kapchorwa stood at 22 mg/litre, the Sisiyi stood at 25.3 mg/litre and the Soloko River was at 32.3 mg/litre.
According to Ms. Sarah Bisikwa, the Manafwa district natural resources officer [Senior environment officer], even the application of fertilizers to the gardens on Mt. Elgon’s upper slopes contaminates all the waters, rendering them unfit for drinking and domestic use.
“We need to do due diligence in trying to create structures that can filter out dangerous germs and bacteria from our sources of water that we get from running water, so there is a need to preach “drink boiled water in our rural areas in order to save our people,” said Ms Bisikwa
According to a 2017 World Health Organisation report, 80 per cent of the people who have to use unsafe and unprotected water sources live in rural areas, with around 159 million people collecting their drinking water from the surface water such as ponds and streams.
UNICEF says that more than 700 children under the age of five die each day from diarrhoea caused by dirty water and poor sanitation.
It is also true that a poor water supply impacts health by causing acute infectious diarrhea or chronic diarrhoea episodes, and non-diarrhea diseases, which can arise from chemical species such as arsenic and fluoride. Ends